Lets start with the reason this article is about liquid nutrition. If you eat solid food on an ultra you are signing up for a stop for #2, which costs time. If you have a solid snack as some point, your ability to absorb calories has not changed, meaning you have to lay off your liquid mix for a while, and get your water and electrolytes some other way. If you have a snack with fat, or a lot of protein, you have actually reduced your ability to take in calories for the next few hours. So, if you can come up with a liquid diet that works for you its an advantage. I am very comfortable with liquid only up to at least 30 hours. I know some who have gone to 50. Christoph Strasser does mostly liquid on RAAM as well, and that is about a week.
- Flavor: I use lemon lime almost exclusively, so my mix tastes a lot like a salty margarita. You are going to want some salt, so why not. Having bad experiences with other fueling solutions can make you not like their taste, as you associate it with stomach issues, or other maladies. For this reason I started with only about 35% on the flavor slider. Over several years I have upped that to about 70% as I really do like the taste, and have not had any stomach issues at all with it. More flavor goes well with more electrolytes. More of both of those also hide any soapy flavor from the protein or amino acids.
- Carbs: For ultra endurance events I like this slider full scale, for longer chain, slower burning fuel. That being said the mix still works great for 2-4 hour tempo rides and fast centuries. If you are on a ketogenic diet, this is also your best choice. This also minimizes the osmolality to minimize stomach issues, and makes you less vulnerable if you forget to fuel for too long.
- Calories: I started at about 280cal per bottle (24oz) and have varied up to as high as 320cal. For over 4 hours I think 280 calories an hour is my limit. The more calories you can take in on an ultra the better, so this is one to experiment with over time and try to maximize. 1.5 calories per pound of lean body mass is a safe place to start. You will always ride better with a mix that is a little too lean than one that is too rich and causes bloating, but over tie you wnat to increase calories as much as you can for best performance.
- Electrolytes: A lot of other drinks/systems would have you take a lot of pills to get 500mg+ of Na per hour, this is easy and I finally get enough sodium. The rough range for this in my experience is 300-600mg/hr. I started at 425mg, and am now at 560mg per hour. The less salt in your daily diet the less you need on the bike. Magnesium is a key to preventing cramps, and at this sodium level I must be getting enough, along with calcium and potassium. If you are on a Ketogenic diet, you may need more electrolytes than if you are not.
- Protein: I would caution ultra racers to start around 2g of protein an hour. Many cannot handle any more with out stopping up their stomachs on long events. The first symptom of too much whey protein for many is gas, so if you start farting a lot on 2-4 hour rides, you might want to back off the protein for longer events. If you are lactose intolerant, ~2g may be your limit. If you feel the need to eat solid food or just feel hunger, you may want to add more protein. If you are allergic to whey, you could order it without any and add your own (soy, egg, hemp....), as long as it will stay dissolved in the mix, or you shake your bottle every swig. To see how many grams of protein you have, you have to click on the Nutritional Info link. See example at the end of this article.
- Amino acids: The key ingredient in the amino acid mix is L-glutamine. In larger amounts (2500mg) its common in recovery drinks. If you try to use a recovery mix like that on a ride, your legs will feel very very tight. With just a little, your legs will feel a little tight, but not tight enough to slow you down on a L3 (Tempo) ride. If your legs feel too tight, back of this slider. If you notice no tightness when you use this on L3 rides, try more. I am right were I need to be for L3 rides with this slider at 25% but wonder if I could tolerate more on ultras (L1-2).
- Caffeine: Personally, it makes me anxious so I do not use it very much. Protein and amino acids, particularity L-glutamine, keep me awake fine. For those less sensitive to stimulants add some caffeine, but beware its a diuretic, so only use as much as you need. Its also a good idea to save it until you need it. Most riders go out too hard or way too hard during ultra distance races, so try not to use any until several hours in, or you can really blow yourself early. Like electrolytes, the less you use in your daily diet, the less you will need on the bike. The more you use the harder it will be to sleep post event as well, if that concerns you.
- Drinking all these electrolytes, be sure brush your teeth after all rides with it.
- If you do hard weeknight rides or races in training, a major challenge is getting to sleep afterwards. Take all the protein/aminos/caffeine out of your ultra mix, or just go with Infinit Speed, and cool down with a bottle of Infinit Nocturne.
- For those who don't want to deal with a custom mix for ultras, but want to try something safe, just mix Infinit Speed and Infinit Go Far 50/50. Its a good start for a custom ultra mix.
- For ultra races, set a watch with a repeating count down timer to go off every 10-15 minutes to remind you to drink, as no one can stay on top of that without a reminder once the endorphins and fatigue gang up on you. Also use the alarm as a reminder to ask yourself if you are feeling as good as you can and going as fast as you can, and if not what can you do about it.
- Do not eat solid food within 3 hours of the start. If its an early morning start, just get up as late as you can and ride. If you are up 3 hours before the start eat one of your normal meals, but not too much fat. You want to evacuate your bowels by the start. Stay away from caffeine as well.
- If you eat solid food on an ultra you are signing up for a stop for #2. Stay on the liquids if you can. If you must have a solid snack as some point, keep in mind that your ability to absorb calories has not changed, meaning you have to lay off your liquid mix for a while, and get your water and electrolytes some other way. If you stop for a snack with fat, or a lot of protein, you have actually reduced your ability to take in calories for the next few hours. If the liquid is working for you, don't sabotage yourself with a solid snack.
- What works for 4 hours may not work for 12 or 24. Although doing an ultra in training may not be beneficial physically, it is a great opportunity to vet a new fuel.
Proper on bike nutrition is one of the bigger hurdles for ultra riders, and I hope this helps you find your optimal solution. Feel free to contact me for further discussion of your specific issues.